South Pavilion exhibited French decorative arts from 1600 to 1800, including elaborately furnished paneled rooms. The exceptional collection of French decorative arts in the J. Paul Getty Museum contains more than four hundred objects, most of them dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Getty’s French decorative arts form one of the finest parts of the museum’s collection, and the baroque and regence collection includes particularly spectacular pieces.
The collection was founded by J. Paul Getty, who bought French furniture from the 1930s until his death. His response to French furniture was unequivocal. On his first exposure to it in 1935, he wrote ‘I suddenly became aware that furniture could have great artistic and aesthetic merit… a blazing torch was applied, and my collector’s urge flared high’.
The objects collected are sumptuous and refined pieces of the highest quality that have significantly enriched the French Decorative Arts galleries. The collection was key components in the museum’s recreation of French Eighteenth Century interiors and have played an essential role in our visitors’ experience and understanding of this critical period of European art.
Produced in the sophisticated artistic culture of Eighteenth Century Paris, these extraordinary works epitomize the skill and artistry that made the French court and aristocratic life the epitome of elegant extravagance, and the envy of collectors throughout Europe.
The works were created as luxury objects that would have decorated the lavishly furnished residences of the French aristocracy and bourgeoisie. Many, such as the clocks, candelabra and the inkstand, were made for practical use, but their sophisticated design and rare materials were also meant to demonstrate the wealth, prestige and refined taste of their owners. The objects represent the full range of decorative styles practiced during the Eighteenth Century, from the grandeur and opulence of late baroque and Régence through the intimate brilliance of the rococo to the severe restraint of the neoclassical.
Treasures from the Sun King’s glittering court are the pride of museum collections throughout the world. The J. Paul Getty Museum’s collection of French Baroque furniture painstaking attention to detail, each object is described and analyzed in terms of its style, use, provenance and published history, as well as its construction and alterations, materials, and conservation.
1st floor: French Decorative Arts
The Department of Sculpture and Decorative Arts oversees a rich collection of nearly 1,700 objects, spanning from the late-12th to mid-20th centuries. The European decorative arts holdings, which J. Paul Getty began acquiring in the 1930s, count among the world’s finest for their quality, rarity, and historical interest. Of particular importance are objects created in France under the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI. The decorative arts collection also features premier examples of furniture, silver, ceramics, glass, textiles, clocks, and gilt bronzes that date from the Renaissance to the early 1800s, as well as medieval and Renaissance stained glass.
Established in 1984, the European sculpture collection has grown significantly to include rare masterpieces made from the Middle Ages through the early 1900s. This ensemble was enriched in 2004 by a generous donation from Fran and Ray Stark, comprising of 28 pieces by prominent artists of the 20th century.
The department’s holdings can be viewed mostly on the plaza level of the Museum’s permanent galleries, with a few pieces on the second level. The majority of the Fran and Ray Stark Sculpture Collection is exhibited at the lower tram station and at the top of the hill around the Getty Center.
The Museum’s collection is particularly rich in examples created by the most talented cabinet masters then active in Paris, including Bernard van Risenburgh II (after 1696–ca. 1766), Jacques Dubois (1694–1763), and Jean-François Oeben (1721–1763). Working for members of the French royal family and aristocracy, these craftsmen excelled at producing veneered and marquetried pieces of furniture (tables, cabinets, and chests of drawers) fashionable for their lavish surfaces, refined gilt-bronze mounts, and elaborate design. These objects were renowned throughout Europe at a time when Paris was considered the capital of good taste.
Metal workshop of craftsmen that made dazzling works for French royalty and foreign courts across Europe. They specialized in luxury wares such as table centerpieces, serving vessels, condiment dishes, pots for coffee, tea, and chocolate, wall lights, candlesticks, and inkstands. With dozens of specialized chasing tools and burnishers, achieved a surprising range of contrasting textures and smooth surfaces that masterfully manipulated light, reflection, and optical perception. Visually astounding, the pieces embodied the Enlightenment’s quest to understand and accurately portray the natural world.
The greatest metalsmith of this generation transformed cold, lifeless metal into sculptural objects that rivaled the forms of nature: clumps of earth, wrinkly truffle mushrooms, beaded cauliflower heads, downy-soft rabbit fur, rumpled feathers, smooth beaks, and even twigs of coffee berries and leaves. Cast from molds and models of actual plant and animal specimens, each part was painstakingly finished to a high degree of realism.
One of the highlights of the Getty Museum’s decorative arts collection is its exquisite tapestries, some of which were owned first by Louis, and then later acquired by Getty. The finest and most sought-after of these were created by the Gobelins Manufactory in Paris.
When Louis shifted from collector of old tapestries to patron of new ones, he set his sights on making the original Gobelins factory, established by Francis I, into an “art super factory.” With additional land purchased by Louis’s minister of finances, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, and under the artistic supervision of royal painter Charles Le Brun, who served as director and chief designer from 1663 to 1690, the Gobelins had many departments and workshops dedicated to different aspects of furniture and tapestry making.
Referred to as lachinage in the seventeenth century, the taste for Asian and Asian-inspired art was shared by other members of the French royal family. Also owned by the Getty Museum are seven tapestries from a series known as “The Story of the Emperor of China” commissioned by the comte de Toulouse, a legitimized son of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. They depict imagined scenes of imperial Chinese court life, including the use of blue and white porcelain.
The idolatry of solomon, Frans Francken II, 1622
Likely dating to the late reign of Louis XIV or slightly after, this frame features center and corner ornaments, pierced shell and foliate corners, and a leaf sight edge.
Golden wall sconce, with holders for three candles.
One of a Pair of Wall Lights, about 1765–70, Philippe Caffieri. Gilt bronze, 25 ½ × 16 ½ × 12 ¼ in.
Golden framed barometer with black background.
Barometer, about 1770–75, made in Paris. Oak veneered with ebony; gilt-bronze mounts; enameled metal; ivory; glass barometrical tube, 48 ½ × 9 ½ × 1 ⅞ in.
Two golden candelabra. The left shows two cherubs sitting opposite each other on top, the right shows a cherub head on.
Pair of candelabra, about 1775, attributed to Pierre Gouthière. Gilt bronze, 15 x 8 ½ x 7 ⅞ in.
Large ornate cabinet with a swirly gold sun motif
Secrétaire, about 1770–75, Philippe-Claude Montigny. Oak veneered with bloodwood, tortoiseshell, brass, pewter, and ebony; gilt-bronze mounts; modern marbleized wooden top, 55 ½ × 33 × 15 ¾ in.
Frame with mirror, Paul Georges, about 1775–80
This nearly eight-foot-high frame has crossed L’s in each corner. The three fleurs-de-lis (stylized lilies) at the top, surrounded by the arms of Saint Michael and Saint Esprit (Hope), and the attributes of war on either side are all royal emblems of France. Today, this splendid frame holds a modern piece of glass, but it once surrounded a portrait of the king.
2nd floor: French Paintings
The Paintings collection encompasses over 400 notable European paintings produced before 1900. The collection is displayed in the skylit second–floor galleries of the Getty Museum and in conjunction with sculpture and decorative art on the plaza level. While its parameters reflect J. Paul Getty’s own interests, in the decades following his death in 1976 the collection expanded considerably beyond his predilection for Italian Renaissance and seventeenth–century Dutch and Flemish painting to include major examples of early Italian and Netherlandish painting, eighteenth– and nineteenth–century French painting, and the Spanish and German schools.
Among the best–known works are Pontormo’s Portrait of a Halberdier, Orazio Gentileschi’s Danaë, Rembrandt’s An Old Man in Military Costume, Turner’s Modern Rome, Manet’s Jeanne (Spring), and Van Gogh’s Irises. Early paintings by Rembrandt (1628–34), as well as works by Rubens, Jacques‑Louis David, Monet, and Degas comprise areas of depth. The Department of Paintings continues to expand its holdings through selective acquisitions and gifts.
The laundress, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1761
Dating to the reign of Louis XVI (1774 to 1792), this frame is original to the painting. It features a gilded architrave molding with a central cartouche (decorative enclosure) with the artist’s name. Also notice the festoons in the shape of laurel leaves, the lamb’s tongue sight (inner) edge, and ribbon twist ornament.
Still life with fish, vegetables, gougères, pots, and cruets on a table, Jean-Siméon Chardin, 1769
Chardin’s spare, subdued still life is paired with an equally restrained frame dating from the reign of Louis XIV (1643 to 1715).
Dance before a fountain, Nicolas Lancret, about 1730–35
This Louis XIV frame is a beautiful example of a “swept rail” Rococo design, with a curved outer edge. It has a lamb’s tongue pattern on the sight (inner) edge, and center and corner ornaments with pearl, leaf, and shell ornament. In form and detail it is the perfect counterpart to Lancret’s swirling dancers. The frame is original to the painting.
J. Paul Getty Museum
The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center features works of art dating from the eighth through the twenty-first century, showcased against a backdrop of dramatic architecture, tranquil gardens, and breathtaking views of Los Angeles. The collection includes European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, and European, Asian, and American photographs.
The J. Paul Getty Museum, commonly referred to as the Getty, is an art museum in California housed on two campuses: the Getty Center and Getty Villa. The Getty Center is in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles and is the primary location of the museum. The collection features Western art from the Middle Ages to the present. Its estimated 1.3 million visitors annually make it one of the most visited museums in the United States. The museum’s second location, the Getty Villa, is in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood (though self-claims in the city of Malibu) and displays art from ancient Greece, Rome, and Etruria.
In 1974, J. Paul Getty opened a museum in a re-creation of the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum on his property in Pacific Palisades, California. In 1982, the museum became the richest in the world when it inherited US$1.2 billion. In 1983, after an economic downturn in what was then West Germany, the Getty Museum acquired 144 illuminated medieval manuscripts from the financially struggling Ludwig Collection in Aachen; John Russell, writing in The New York Times, said of the collection, “One of the finest holdings of its kind ever assembled, it is quite certainly the most important that was in private hands.” In 1997, the museum moved to its current location in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles; the Pacific Palisades museum, renamed the “Getty Villa”, was renovated and reopened in 2006.
One can see a large part of the collection on the website of the J. Paul Getty Museum. In addition to the paintings and manuscripts, which are discussed in more detail below, there are also important collections of drawings, sculptures and photographs that can be consulted online.
In the Getty Villa about 44,000 pieces are housed from a period of 6,500 BC. The collection includes sculptures, reliefs, mosaics, panel paintings and frescoes, vases, bottles, goblets and amforae, candles and oil lamps, jewelry, pins, bracelets, mirrors, combs, buckles and various ornaments, coins, monuments and votiefgiften and a collection of Most diverse items.